All India Convention of Rubber Growers Gives Call for Parliament Dharna on November 25
THE first one-day All India Convention of small and marginal rubber growers was held on 29th September, 2015 at Kottayam in Kerala -- the most concentrated region of rubber growers in India. The convention has given a call to organise rubber cultivators all over the country and initiate persistent struggles against the neoliberal attack on agriculture and the peasantry.
The convention was held at a time when the rubber growers are engulfed by persistent crisis due to a steep fall in commodity price of natural rubber world over. It addressed the task of unearthing the reasons of massive exploitation of the peasantry by the capitalist market and put forward an alternative path to overcome this crisis and protect the interests of both the rubber cultivation and the growers.
The 33rd All India Conference of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), held at Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu in July 2013, and subsequent meetings of the All India Kisan Council and CKC have been reiterating that crop-wise mobilisation of the peasantry shall be undertaken with due seriousness in order to face the challenges of the neo-liberal attack on agriculture. Under the neo-liberal era, the impact of the world capitalist crisis on agriculture is being differentiated across different crops and regions within India. Hence, crop-wise and region-wise approach is very much essential for understanding the character of the crisis on different crops and to equip the peasantry to face the imperialist-corporate onslaught by putting forward scientific demands and mobilising larger sections of the peasantry within the country and also world over with confidence. In this direction, AIKS has organised meetings and conventions of sugarcane growers and jute farmers. The rubber growers’ convention, the first attempt in this direction, was attended by around 200 delegates from Kerala, Tripura, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
AIKS vice-president and Kerala legislative assembly member E P Jayarajan presided over the convention. He observed that the central as well as state governments are not willing to protect the interests of rubber growers and always stand in favour of corporate industrialists. AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, inaugurating the convention, called for building the widest unity of rubber growers to unleash persistent struggles to force the government to change policy and protect the rubber growers who are facing acute crisis. K N Harilal, VIjoo Krishnan addressed the convention. The academic session was presided over by K V Ramakrishnan, Kerala state secretary of AIKS. P Krishnaprasad placed the report which was adopted after discussion. Prakasan Master (Kerala), Sandip Debnath (Tripura), P Gopal Krishnan (Tamil Nadu), and Haridas (Karnataka) participated in the discussion. Reception committee chairman V N Vasavan welcomed the delegates and Prof. M T Joseph extended vote of thanks.
The convention has decided to observe 25th November, 2015 as ‘Demands Day’ across the country. A 10-day campaign will be carried out from 15 to 25 November with household visits, conventions, public meetings, etc. A dharna will be organised in front of Parliament on 25th November, and a memorandum will be submitted to the Prime Minister.
A coordination committee has been formed with 12 members comprising P Krishnaprasad (convener); MP Jiten Chowdhury (joint convener); K V Ramakrishnan, George Mathew, Prof. M T Joseph and Prakasan Master (Kerala); Srimanta Dey and Sandip Debnath (Tripura); J Simon Sailas and P Gopal Krishnan (Tamil Nadu); and Haridas (Karnataka). The state units of AIKS shall organise small and marginal rubber growers at various levels and an all India conference will be organised later.
This convention of rubber growers is the first step by AIKS at all India level to address the protracted crisis in the sector. The state units of AIKS shall undertake the task of organising rubber growers within a stipulated time-frame culminating with an all India conference of rubber growers. Without change in the policy of the Government of India, problems of small producers cannot be addressed, including those of price volatility and price crashes from over supply. There are strong views from experts that collective transnational action by producers and cooperation among small and medium growers in rubber producing countries are essential to overcome the crisis. AIKS shall initiate coordination among the rubber growers in rubber producing countries with the help of the Trade Union International (Agriculture), of which AIKS is a constituent member. AIKS may explore the possibility of organising an international conference of small and medium rubber growers in Kerala, in association with the Trade Union International (Agriculture) in the first half of 2016.
Rubber Plantation & Industry
As per data of the Rubber Board, the number of rubber growers in India is 11, 90,215. Among them, 11,71,170 are in Kerala. Only 13,790 farmers have more than two hectares of land and 5,255 farmers have land in the range of five and 20 hectares. Though rubber is a plantation crops 91 per cent of its production in India is under the small and middle peasants. In Kerala, around one lakh households are engaged in rubber tapping and another ten thousand households are in the rubber trading profession. The small-holding segment has far exceeded the estates segment in area and production of rubber and currently, the share of small holdings is as high as 89 per cent in area and 93 per cent in production. Kerala and Tamil Nadu, being the traditional area, account for 75 per cent of total area under rubber cultivation and contribute to the tune of 91 per cent of the total production in India. The non-traditional regions comprise the Northeast (mainly Tripura), except Sikkim, and Odisha, Maharashtra, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Goa.
Successive Indian governments, especially after WTO and Free Trade agreements, have been taking anti-farmer positions as compared to other countries. It is evident from the subsidy policy towards rubber growers. While in Malaysia and Thailand, planting subsidy per hectare is Rs 2.70 lakh (4,337.72 dollars) and Rs 1.35 lakh (2,200 dollars) respectively, our government pays only Rs 25,000 per hectare. The subsidy amount, which was 25 per cent of the estimated development cost in the year 1981, has been systematically cut down during these years and now stands at mere 8 per cent in 2014.
Till 1990, the rubber growers in India were getting higher prices than the price at Bangkok, the major world market for rubber. The reasons for that were the widespread rubber-based domestic industry and the strict restrictions over import. Since 1991, such restrictions on rubber products including tyre were diluted due to the neo-liberal economic policies. At present, 30 per cent of this import is automotive tyre products.
In April 2011, the price of per kilogram of natural rubber was Rs 248 at Kottayam market. At that time, the world market price of natural rubber was Rs 150/kg. The domestic consumption of natural rubber in India is around 10 lakh metric tonnes and 95 per cent of that is being produced domestically. Hence, the gap is only half lakh tones. But in 2014 alone, three lakh tonnes of rubber had been imported. In May 2014, the price declined to Rs 132 only. On 26 September 2015, the price of RSS 4 brand of natural rubber at Kottayam was Rs 112/kg and the world market price on the same day at Bangkok market was Rs 87.85/kg. The import policy within the framework of neo-liberal reforms, along with the recession in the world capitalist economy since 2008, has been the source of price instability and due to this price crash, the rubber growers are suffering losses to the tune of an average sum of Rs 5,000 crore annually.
On the contrary, corporate tyre companies have been amassing huge profits. In the April-June quarter of financial year 2015-16, the largest tyre company in India, MRF, had a 94 per cent jump in net profit, i.e. Rs. 447 crore. And in the corresponding period the year before, Rs 230 crore was the profit of MRF, which proves that the profit of the corporate is extracted from the loss of rubber growers. We should also consider that while the raw material cost has been slashed to less than half, the price of finished industrial products like tyre and footwears has not come down. Thus, the corporate rubber manufacturing industrial sector is the beneficiary of the protracted distress in the rubber cultivation sector.
Crisis in Rubber Sector
This crisis reflects the conflict between primary producers and corporate forces. The farmers have no collective strength to bargain in the capitalist market. Monopolistic operators use their market power and also collude among themselves to manipulate prices at the expense of producers and consumers, and earn surplus profits. It is here that collective action and state intervention can play a role through peasant collectives, producer cooperatives, trade unions, state trading agencies, commodity boards, etc. and to address the onslaught of big capital on both producers and consumers. But neither the Government of India nor the state governments led by the right wing political parties are willing to stand with determination in support of farmers.
AIKS consider the rubber crisis as part of the overall agrarian distress that surfaced all over the world in the context of intensifying imperialist globalisation. From a scenario of public sector playing pivotal role aimed at self-reliance, the ruling classes have shifted to the path of systematic withdrawal of the State from agriculture to facilitate seizure by the corporate forces. The farm income is insufficient to meet cost of production and expense for sustenance of peasant households. In the case of rubber, as per the data of the Rubber Board, the cost of production of one kg of natural rubber is Rs 160 and the price is below Rs 120, thus rubber growers are unable to realise even the cost of production while selling their products.
As far as the protracted crash in price of natural rubber and the resultant big loss suffered by cultivators, especially the petty producers, this issue needs to be discussed in relation with the value addition to natural rubber through agro processing. The iron grip over automotive tyre and other rubber processing industry and market is the crucial thing that enables them to establish dominance over and pauperise petty producers.
Studies point out that world over, only ten per cent of the value of consumer products made out of agricultural products goes back to the primary producers. The remaining 90 per cent has been shared among industrial processing and trade classes and their middlemen. This is the root cause of growing inequality all over the world with resultant centralisation of capital and pauperisation of peasant and working masses. This situation cannot continue forever. The industrial process under monopoly capital and peasant-agriculture can never expand alongside. The resultant pauperisation constitutes the most powerful motive for the peasantry and the rural working class to transcend capitalism.
In order to protect them, just like how the peasantry took over the farm land from the feudal classes, the petty producers have to come together and seize the modern large scale agro processing industries and market networks from the hands of monopoly capital. The struggle against imperialist globalisation is intrinsically linked to the struggle for elimination of monopoly capital. To overcome the contemporary crisis in rubber sector the existing system of petty production needs to be replaced by large scale production based on technological and material advances and by reorganising the existing relations in production. Establishing rubber based modern agro processing industries including world class automotive tyre manufacturing plants supported with the extensive use of science and technology is a precondition to establish large-scale agricultural production.
Hence, the petty producers and small farmers all over the country shall be united to form social cooperatives to establish modern large-scale rubber based agro-processing industries and marketing networks. This will provide support, protection and progress to the peasants and petty producers as a substitute to their present pauperisation, misery and arduous toil under capitalism thus bringing the peasants and other petty producers to make the transaction with self-motivation and without any compulsion. Thus social cooperative movement is part of the class struggle under and against capitalism which will help to isolate big capital and forge unity of all classes that have conflicts of interest with imperialist and neo-liberal forces.
In order to create conducive atmosphere for this process, the peasant and agricultural workers’ movements shall take up protracted struggles demanding the central and state governments to enact a law for protection of petty producers in the rubber sector and provide financial assistance to set up rubber-based large-scale modern agro-processing industries. Developing struggles to begin social cooperatives of rubber growers will provide ample political space to mobilise and politicize the peasantry. (END)
CHARTER OF DEMANDS
1. The Union government shall enact a law to protect natural rubber producers all over the country from corporate exploitation. Provide representation for the plantation workers’ associations and small and marginal growers in the expert committee constituted by Department of Commerce, Government of India to formulate National Rubber Policy
2. Announce Rs 240/kg as MSP of natural rubber in proportionate to cost of production, based on the formula C 2 plus 50% as recommended by the National Farmers Commission and as promised in the 2014 Lok Sabha election manifesto of BJP.
3. The government shall declare Rs 5,000 crore as price stabilisation fund and entrust agencies to procure natural rubber at block level.
4. The Union government shall provide Rs 1,000 crore to establish modern large-scale rubber-processing industries to manufacture world class automotive tyres and other rubber-based consumer goods under the collective ownership of social cooperatives of rubber producers and plantation workers.
5. Declare 75 per cent of the estimated cost of planting and cultivation of natural rubber as subsidy to rubber growers.
6. Increase the tariff adequately and ensure strict port regulation to control import of natural rubber. Impose 50 per cent tariff against dumping of natural rubber in to the domestic market.
7. The government shall enact progressive land reform bill and eliminate monopoly ownership in plantation sector. Declare nationalisation of plantation sector, put ceiling to plantation land and entrust plantations to social cooperatives of plantation workers and to non-monopoly entrepreneurs.
8. Promote small and middle industrial processing enterprises based on natural rubber and exempt consumer products out of processed natural rubber from VAT
9. Promote use of natural rubber for construction of roads and highways
10. Give priority to enhance productivity by replanting with high yielding variety of rubber plants
11. Reconsider the export-import policy of rubber products to protect domestic production
12. Establish All India Rubber Study Centre to promote research and development. Provide adequate budget allocation and strengthen the Rubber Board.